Meteorologist Dr. William Gray may be the world’s most famous hurricane expert. More than two decades ago, as professor of atmospheric science and head of the Tropical Meteorology Project at Colorado State University, he pioneered the science of hurricane forecasting. Each December, six months before the start of hurricane season, the now 75-year-old Gray and his team issue a long-range prediction of the number of major tropical storms that will arise in the Atlantic Ocean basin, as well as the number of hurricanes (with sustained winds of 74 miles per hour or more) and intense hurricanes (with winds of at least 111 mph). This year, Gray expects more activity, with 15 named storms, including 8 hurricanes. Four of them, he says, will be intense.
James Glassman: Dr. Gray, in the September issue of Discover Magazine, there’s a remarkable interview with you. You’re called the world’s most famous hurricane…
Dr. William Gray: Well that – you have to talk to my critics about that. I don’t think they would agree with you. I’ve been around a long time, yes. I’ve been around studying hurricanes over 50 years now, I’m an old guy. Yes.
Glassman: Well, you’re in the hurricane forecasting business among other things?
Gray: Well, we’re in the seasonal hurricane forecasting business, and monthly. We don’t do the short range, you know, one to two day crucial forecasts. That can only be done by one group at the National Hurricane Center. But we certainly do a lot of forecasting for different parts of the globe and the hurricane from a seasonal, monthly point of view. Yes.
Glassman: And from a seasonal, monthly point of view, you had been predicting a growing number of hurricanes. Now, my question is in the wake of Katrina and some of the statements that we’ve heard immediately afterwards by advocates of the global warming theory – is global warming behind this increase in hurricanes?
Gray: I am very confident that it’s not. I mean we have had global warming. That’s not a question. The globe has warmed the last 30 years, and the last 10 years in particular. And we’ve had, at least the last 10 years, we’ve had a pick up in the Atlantic basin major storms. But in the earlier period, if we go back from 1970 through the middle ‘90s, that 25 year period – even though the globe was warming slightly, the number of major storms was down, quite a bit down.
Now, another feature of this is that the Atlantic operates differently. The other global storm basins, the Atlantic only has about 12 percent of the global storms. And in the other basins, the last 10 years – even though the Atlantic major storm activity has gone up greatly the last 10 years. In the other global basins, it’s slightly gone down. You know, both frequency and strength of storms have not changed in these other basins. If anything, they’ve slightly gone down. So if this was a global warming thing, you would think, “Well gee, all of the basins should be responding much the same.”
Glassman: You’re familiar with what your colleagues believe. Do you think many hurricane experts would take a different point of view, and would say, “Oh, it’s global warming that’s causing hurricanes?”
Gray: No. All my colleagues that have been around a long time – I think if you go to ask the last four or five directors of the national hurricane center – we all don’t think this is human-induced global warming. And, the people that say that it is are usually those that know very little about hurricanes. I mean, there’s almost an equation you can write the degree to which you believe global warming is causing major hurricanes to increase is inversely proportional to your knowledge about these storms.
Now there’s a few modelers around who know something about storms, but they would like to have the possibility open that global warming will make for more and intense storms because there’s a lot of money to be made on this. You know, when governments step in and are saying this – particularly when the Clinton administration was in – and our Vice President Gore was involved with things there, they were pushing this a lot. You know, most of meteorological research is funded by the federal government. And boy, if you want to get federal funding, you better not come out and say human-induced global warming is a hoax because you stand the chance of not getting funded.
Glassman: We thank you very, very much for this interview. Thank you, Dr. Gray.
Gray: Well thank you for asking me. I am convinced myself that in 15 or 20 years, we’re going to look back on this and see how grossly exaggerated it all was. The humans are not that powerful. These greenhouse gases, although they are building up, they cannot cause the type of warming these models say – two to five degrees centigrade with a doubling of the greenhouse gases.